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Ag agency workers in thick of flood fight

Last week, about a dozen workers from the USDA Service Center in Detroit Lakes -- which includes the local offices of the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Rural Development and the Becker County Soil and Water Conservation District -- volunteered their time to help flood relief efforts in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Many of them brought family members along as well, said Barb Fyffe, who made the trip to Moorhead twice, on Tuesday and Friday of last week.

"The USDA gave us administrative leave to go over and help with the sandbagging," Fyffe said.

On Tuesday, March 24, she and two of her colleagues went to help out with sandbagging efforts in a neighborhood where a relative of one of the employees lived, Fyffe added.

Then, on Friday, she and about a half dozen others took the bus provided by Anderson Bus Company over to Nemzek Hall in Moorhead, where they were shipped out to help sandbag around a post office in Moorhead which was near the Main Avenue bridge.

"We were only there for about five hours at a time," she said. "If you switched off duties (filling sandbags, tying and carrying them, etc.), it wasn't too bad. I was pleasantly tired, but not exhausted."

The most rewarding part of the trip for Fyffe was talking to people from all over the region who had come to help the Fargo-Moorhead community.

"It was amazing to talk to people and hear the distances some of them came -- from the Twin Cities, Pine River, Alexandria, Elbow Lake -- it wasn't just Fargo-Moorhead people, it was from everywhere. That was pretty cool."

Though it may sound a little clichéd, Fyffe added, "It really does restore your faith in human nature."

Holly Heimark, who made the trip with Fyffe on both Tuesday and Friday, said she was motivated by past experience to help the embattled Fargo-Moorhead residents.

"I lived in Roseau during the 2002 flood, so I kind of knew what was happening there (in Fargo-Moorhead)," she said. "That's part of the reason I wanted to go sandbag -- I knew how much work it was going to take."

Heimark noted how well organized the sandbagging efforts were.

Nathan Peterson, who serves as the FSA director for both Becker and Mahnomen counties, also made the trip twice, on the nights of March 24 and 25.

"I didn't have a lot of commitments Tuesday night (March 24), so I decided to go," he said. After seeing how much work needed to be done, "It didn't take too much convincing for me to go back."

Peterson, who grew up in north central Iowa, said, "I've never seen anything like that before."

While helping to sandbag around one Moorhead neighborhood that was threatened by rising floodwaters, Peterson said he had the opportunity to talk to some of the homeowners.

"They were incredibly appreciative," he said. "You could definitely see the panic, and the exhaustion in their eyes...they'd been at it (sandbagging) a long time. It was nice to know our effort was so appreciated, and needed."

In fact, after two straight nights of volunteering for sandbagging duty, Peterson boarded the bus again on Thursday night -- but this one never reached its intended destination.

"We had 85 people on two buses when we were turned around and sent back (to Detroit Lakes)," he said. "I just couldn't believe the response from the communities around this area. It was amazing."

NRCS scientist Ed Musielewicz also went over on Tuesday and Wednesday "right after work."

He said he talked to a lot of local residents who were "surprised that people were coming to help from Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Perham...they were very appreciative."

He said he was impressed with the organization of the flood relief efforts were, and how "they got all that work done in such a short time."

Though she wasn't able to make the trip to Fargo-Moorhead during the week, Becker SWCD employee Ginger Flynn helped man the phones at the Becker County Emergency Operations Center on Saturday.

"I was there for about four hours," she said. "People were calling in with donations, opening up their homes to the evacuees... I thought that was impressive. I had people calling and volunteering to do whatever they could or was needed.

"It was rewarding."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454